They say there’s nothing new under the sun, but thank god some things have changed in the last 565 million years. Because what sex looked like 565 million years ago is strange. Let me start with rangeomorphs. Never heard of them? Me neither, but to me they sounded like a modern day Power Ranger. Not the case, they are actually from way, way back. “These Ediacaran period organisms are considered to be among the first animals — or complex species of any phylum — ever to evolve on our planet,” according to Vice. Why do we need to know about them?
Well here’s the thing, new research from Cambridge University shows they may have been way smarter than any of us. At least, they reproduced more cleverly. Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in paleoecology and lead author, said in a statement that “rangeomorphs don’t look like anything else in the fossil record, which is why they’re such a mystery… But we’ve developed a whole new way of looking at them, which has helped us understand them a lot better — most interestingly, how they reproduced.” Basically, they used a mixture of asexual and sexual reproduction, which gave them a massive edge on other organisms at the time. Sounds weird? It is, but it’s cool. Here’s what you need to know about our rangeomorph friends.
1. We Can Study Sex From 565 Million Years Ago Thanks To Fossils, Because Science
So Fractofusus is a genus of rangeomorphs (if you just said “King Alfred Came Over From Germany Swimming” to yourself, then you and I are brothers), and that’s what the researchers focused on. Mostly because it’s “preserved in exquisite detail in southeastern Newfoundland. The team used a novel technique known as the spatial point process to map out the dimensions of the Fractofusus clusters, then they modeled that data,” according to Vice.
2. The Use Of Sexual And Asexual Reproduction Allowed Them To Spread And Colonize
Imagine not needing anyone else to make babies! Actually, that’s terrifying because I’m far too whimsical. Basically, the Fractofusus sent out spores which allowed them to spread far and reproduce either sexually or asexually, and “once this ‘grandparent’ generation was established in the new region, the rangeomorphs expanded the colony asexually with new ‘children’ stolons or runners.” It gave them the edge and may help explain “the origins of our modern marine environment.”
3. It’s A Technique Used By Modern Plants, Like Strawberries
So apparently lots of organisms have been doing it this way, getting it on with others and themselves to spread and colonize, but Mitchell told Vice that what makes Fractofusus different is that “it is the oldest large organism in the fossil record that has been shown to reproduce in two distinct ways, so could well be the first organism to evolve this common strategy.” So even 565 million years ago things were looking for new and inventive ways to get it on.
Originally posted on Bustle